November is merrily rolling by, the days shedding from the calendar like the bronze flutter of falling leaves, and I haven’t posted here since Halloween. What have I been doing with myself?
Weekly, I have student papers to edit. I like to think of myself as editing rather than grading. Of course, I have to assign some considered evaluation that reflects the achievement, effort, and understanding of the required course material on the part of the student. But I prefer to style myself as an editor making recommendations to strengthen the piece than a teacher putting a letter or numerical value on an assignment.
I’ve been editing the personal essay forthcoming in Literary Mama, which I’m very excited about, and also a little nervous, because in it I not only talk about my spiritual development—or lack thereof—but I also reveal how old I am. Not that I am embarrassed about my age. I am proud and lucky to have lived this long, considering. I value every one of my years and don’t regret how I spent them. Only—there are lots of people my age who have achieved a lot more than me, some of them at ages far younger, so I feel a little guilty about not yet fully living up to my potential, not yet giving back as much as I could.
Then I’ve been editing posts for femmeliterate, the proofs for A Lesson in Manners (and what a joy that was!), the novel (still hacking away at it!), the interview I’m transcribing for Publisher’s Weekly, polishing various reviews. And in my head, late at night, brilliant lines that would completely transform two different short stories currently out and under consideration have occurred to me, only to suffer the cruel fate of being promised recall the next morning, which inevitably disappears when morning comes. But the inspiration will return. These stories are asking for that new breath of life, that final line that pulls everything together. I’m not worried. Much.
But all this has invited me to make a huge paradigm shift in how I think about my own writing process. Just the other day I described myself as an idea person—a starter—someone who’s bubbling over with new ventures, but hazy on the execution. At my consulting job, I said, I would design the project, test it, roll it out, and then hand it over to someone else for maintenance. I could test and edit and like it, but the maintenance didn’t interest me. Ask me, I said, how many novels I have begun or drafted and left sitting in drawers, and how many novels I have revised, shopped, sold, and published. That ought to tell you where my passion lies.
And then I immediately asked myself: Does it?
Because my recent experience of being edited has been, unanimously, much more like musical composition and less like a slog of hard but necessary work. I send in a piece and then I receive remarks on it that are in harmony with my vision but in some places more precise, more correct, more interesting. I revise to this new tune, discovering new things about the piece, send again, and again it comes back to me with a few lovely counterpoints and melodic highs that I hadn’t even considered. Once again the piece opens up, the insights shine, only this time faceted, polished, more beautiful (if I may) than I had originally conceived it. The subtle but sure touch of another makes the work truly sing. At least to me.
This experience is making me more eager, and not less, to finally put the novel in some shape where other eyes can see it . I used to adhere to some solitary-genius mode of writing where I envisioned and created the piece, breathed it into life, polished it hermetically and repeatedly in my lofty eyrie, then sent it out to the world of literary journals, and it would appear in more or less exactly that same form, sometimes with monetary reward attached. I had somehow convinced myself that this was how True Artists worked.
I’m starting to understand that approach is both maniacally egotistical and misguided. I tell my students all the time that their work will benefit from another set of eyes. I’m finally starting to believe that for myself.